Wednesday, December 16, 2009

"Upside-Down Days"

In front of a tired and tested group of students last night, our Provost for Academic Affairs told students that, "there will never be another first semester at KAUST!" Everybody cheered.

This has been the most stressful week yet for me, and I think for most students, faculty, and administrators as well. Final exams started this week, and end of semester projects were also due, but beyond those normal academic stresses have been others which are unique to KAUST: housing changes, lots of IT problems, registration problems, and even a minor security issue all while trying to study for tests. My friend from Mexico called them "Upside-Down Days" I term I thought was both funny and fitting. It has been a struggle to keep patience with people and with systems at times, but I have not yet despaired. Finals have gone well so far, and I will be back home in the USA with my family in just five days!

During a typical Upside Down Day this week, I would:

Have the internet cut off a phone call with my sister back home...
Discover that a group biostatistics project that was almost finished had to be completely redone because of one mistake...
Wait in class for a professor who never showed because he was called to an emergency meeting with the president's office...
Hear rumors that all students will be moved from their current houses to permanent houses after finals (moving is stressful...)
Find out that free coffee at night in the library has been discontinued because a stingy business owner (who charges way too much for coffee during the day) is upset about students using his milk at night...
Migrate from computer to computer in the library until I found one that both worked and had internet (IT problem...)
Endure criticism from irate campus security who threatened "big problem for you" to my study partner who had just connected a lan cable to his laptop to try and get internet which wasn't working anyway...
Throw my hands up in disgust when I finally got online and access to all online notes and study materials was denied because all student passwords were changed (another IT problem) just two days before an exam...
Get five hours sleep that night and do it all again the next day...
Score an 'A' on my exam at the end of the week!

I don't think that any of the students would like to relive this first semester at KAUST. When we all come back after the vacation, I hope to return to a KAUST which has left many of those organizational problems behind. Being the first class has been trying, everyone has had expectations which have not been met in some way or another. Some days I feel like those who survive to graduation should be given a medal, not just a degree, for smoothing out a rocky path which others will follow for years to come.

Still glad to be here though - and I will be back for more in January!

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